Products | Night Vision Goggles
Want to improve air ambulance safety? Then adopt two-pilot crews, and make sure that they are equipped with night vision goggles (NVGs). That was the message from Night Vision and Electro Optical Conference 2009 (NVEO 2009), a two-day event held Nov. 16–17 in Ottawa, Canada. It featured presentations from military and civil agencies that use NVGs, plus government researchers and industry reps. Gladstone Aerospace Consulting (GAC) and the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries are the organizers of NVEO.
“Thanks to the two-pilot system and their own operations management, STARS [Alberta’s Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society air ambulance service] has been able to integrate night vision goggles safely and competently,” said Ian McIntyre, GAC’s vice president of training. “The impact on transport time to patients and then to hospital has been significant,” he added. “For instance, when STARS would fly into Cranbrook without night vision goggles, they would have to gain altitude to fly over the mountains both there and back; a diversion that added an hour to their flight time. Now, with night vision goggles, they can fly through the valleys as they would in VFR conditions.”
Will U.S. air ambulance operators follow Canada’s lead and adopt NVGs as a matter of course? They may have no choice. “The FAA is thinking of making it mandatory that air ambulance operators have night vision capability,” McIntyre said. “That would make a major difference, but what would really improve things is for the FAA to require two-pilot air ambulance crews.”
This said, the safety issues that are dogging air ambulances can’t be solved just by giving pilots NVGs. Proper training is required for these devices to be used effectively and safely. In addition, NVGs have to be integrated into a pilot’s overall flying routine. Otherwise, it may make things worse by distracting pilots further.
“Bringing new technology into the cockpit is not necessarily making the flying better or safer,” explained McIntyre. “People have these things—these tools—[and] they know how to use one or two of them, but they don’t know how to integrate them so that they lighten up their workloads a bit, make them more efficient, or ensure that they’re flying safer.”
Taken as a whole, NVEO 2009 covered NV/EO research, trials, deployments, and lessons learned. (There was also a small trade show featuring NV/EO vendors.) Items covered included Canadian technology for ‘seeing through’ brownouts caused by helicopter rotor wash by using LIDAR; integrating terrain databases to enhance low-light sensor systems/displays; and the joys of flying a Sea King from a ship during a nighttime blizzard without NVGs.
Pressed into this last duty after using NVGs for low-light flying, presenter and Canadian Forces pilot Lt. John Schein told the NVEO 2009 audience how he summed up the change to his fellow Sea King pilots: “You guys are nuts!” The delegates murmured agreement: Flying without NVGs at night is senseless, when these tools make night flying so much safer.